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Gentildonna outduels Orfevre to make Japan Cup history

Gentildonna (right) became the first three-year-old filly ever to win the Japan Cup (Japan Racing Association)
In a rousing stretch battle between Japanese Triple Crown winners, reigning Filly Triple heroine Gentildonna outdueled last year's Triple Crown star Orfevre by a nose in Sunday's Grade 1 Japan Cup at Tokyo. Aside from emulating her sire, 2006 Japan Cup legend Deep Impact, Gentildonna became the first sophomore filly ever to win her nation's signature international contest. But her place in the record book was only confirmed after she survived an inquiry, for she bumped Orfevre in their wrestling match.

Either way it went, the Japan Cup result was a triumph for Sunday Racing Co., which owns both Gentildonna and Orfevre, and also swept the trifecta with another colorbearer, Rulership, in third.

"Although the Japan Cup was a big challenge for a three-year-old filly," winning trainer Sei Ishizaka said, "I was confident that she was up to the competition and she proved that today. She had maintained her form to her best and I knew, being a fighter when contested in a duel, that she would pull through and claim her victory."

Gentildonna thus broke a barrier that even All Along and Fabulous La Fouine, the runners-up in 1982 and 1996, respectively, could not breach. The only other sophomore filly to place second in the Japan Cup was Magic Night in 1991.

At the same time, Gentildonna continued the recent trend of female winners, with older distaffers taking three of the last four titles. Vodka started the series in 2009, and Buena Vista crossed the wire first in both 2010 and 2011. But for Buena Vista's disqualification for interference in 2010, females would have won four straight Japan Cups.

As expected, Japanese Horse of the Year Orfevre was favored to rebound from his heartbreaking loss in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Gentildonna, last seen completing her Filly Triple Crown sweep in the Grade 1 Shuka Sho on October 14, rated as the third choice. Splitting them in the wagering was Rulership, winner of Hong Kong's Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup earlier this season.

With regular rider Yasunari Iwata aboard, Gentildonna mitigated the possible ground loss from post 15 and secured a forward tracking position just off early leader Beat Black. Tosen Jordan, who missed narrowly in last year's Japan Cup, was also stalking closely in Beat Black's slipstream. Solemia, the upset winner of the Arc, and three-year-old colt Fenomeno were likewise in striking range. In contrast, Orfevre was unhurried in the latter portion of the 17-horse field.

Beat Black, who famously shocked the Grade 1 Tenno Sho Spring over two miles back in April, tried to make the best use of his bottomless stamina. Opening up a huge lead on the field rounding the final turn, Beat Black still held a daylight advantage in the stretch as he sought to spring another upset.

By this time, Orfevre had rocketed toward the front of the main body of the field, and now moved in tandem with Gentildonna. The two Triple Crown winners took off after Beat Black, and together they inhaled the one-paced stayer.

Locked as a team inside the final furlong, Gentildonna and Orfevre didn't give an inch as they scrimmaged. Every time Orfevre tried to force his head in front, Gentildonna kept finding more to rebuff his challenge. Although she benefited from a nine-pound weight concession from the older male Orfevre, Gentildonna displayed great resolve and physical courage to prevail.

Gentildonna and Orfevre served up a thrilling battle of Triple Crown winners (Japan Racing Association)
Gentildonna negotiated 1 1/2 miles on the firm turf in 2:23.1, but it took a lot longer for the stewards to declare her the official winner. Despite allowing the result to stand, the stewards handed Iwata a two-day suspension which he will serve Saturday and next Sunday.

"Although the draw was way out," Iwata said, "I was able to position nicely and we had a perfect trip up to the fourth corner, from when, I am afraid the blame is on me for causing some trouble to the other horse (Orfevre) at the stretch.

"But the filly is nonetheless a great filly for outdueling a monster like Orfevre and becoming the first three-year-old filly to claim the Japan Cup title.

"I was conscious of facing a very tough field compared to her past races, but decided to just concentrate on bringing out her best performance in the race, which she did."

Orfevre, who suffered his second straight loss in a tight finish, had 2 1/2 lengths to spare over the late-running Rulership. Dark Shadow finished fourth, preventing Sunday Racing's Fenomeno from giving his owner the superfecta. Next came Tosen Jordan; Beat Black; Red Cadeaux, who fared best of the Europeans in eighth; Eishin Flash; Jaguar Mail; Jakkalberry; Mount Athos; Solemia; Oken Bruce Lee; Meisho Kampaku; Rose Kingdom; and Sri Putra.

Solemia wasn't able to duplicate her Arc performance in dramatically different conditions, and will now begin her new career as a broodmare.

"She broke well and sat in a good position," jockey Olivier Peslier said. "The pace wasn't a problem, but when the other horses caught up with her at the last corner, she lost momentum. The track may have been a bit too firm for her also."

"It was a very good race," trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias said. "I think she did very well in regard to that she is coming off a hard race in the Arc, and her first overseas travel. It might have been different if she had had experience racing abroad and had more time to adapt to the fast track here. She will retire now."

Gentildonna extended her winning streak to five, improving her overall mark to 9-7-1-0, 689,538,000. Runner-up in her career debut about this time last year, she sailed to a 3 1/2-length maiden win next time out in December. Gentildonna opened her sophomore campaign with a victory in the Grade 3 Shinzan Kinen on January 8, but subsequently spiked a fever that left her some way below her best for the Grade 3 Tulip Sho on March 3, where she wound up fourth. She hasn't tasted defeat since.

After a half-length verdict in the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese One Thousand Guineas) on April 8, Gentildonna conquered the Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) by five lengths in stakes-record time over this course and distance on May 20. She cut back in trip when returning from her summer break in the Grade 2 Rose Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on September 16, showing more tactical speed than usual to stalk and pounce. Gentildonna reverted to her typical one-run style for the final leg of the Filly Triple Crown, the Shuka Sho, and just got up to win in a nail-biter.

Bred by Northern Racing in Japan, Gentildonna is a full sister to multiple Grade 3 queen Donau Blue, who was most recently third versus males in last Sunday's Grade 1 Mile Championship. They are out of the Bertolini mare Donna Blini, winner of the Group 1 Cheveley Park and Group 2 Cherry Hinton in 2005.

Gentildonna's connections are looking forward to presenting her on the world stage.

"Even though she did have the weight advantage carrying 53 kilos," Ishizaka said, "she still has room for improvement, and I am confident that she will have a bright future ahead. After her battle against tough competition in the Japan Cup, she will be turned out until her four-year-old season in which, depending on her condition, I will go on with my plan for overseas challenges, which had been my consideration ever since Gentildonna won the third leg of the fillies' triple crown, perhaps in Dubai, France or the U.S.

"I am thinking long term, however, not necessary next year but even the year after that," her trainer revealed.

"I would certainly love to accompany her in her overseas endeavor for the coming four-year-old season," Iwata said, "and I am confident that she has the potential to win against the best, but she is a very delicate filly and her chance to mature both physically and mentally comes first. I am just looking forward to feel her progress and grow up in her future races."

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